Sunday, March 23, 2008

About Last Ditch Criticism

The very idea of America is now under attack.

I am taking two candidates to task for their treatment of a particular skill of a third. People can still think what they think, and make up their own mind... after all, isn't this still America?

What does that wonderful phrase mean to us now?

I just had to share my disquiet, on a deep, visceral level, that both John McCain and Hilary Clinton have attacked Barack Obama's speeches on the basis that he offers hope.

Excuse my language, but WTF?

The oft-repeated disclaiming response about the effect Barack Obama's speeches have on the people who hear them is something that disturbs me.

People can come to their own decisions about his policies, his character, his campaign style, and what they might know, or not, about the people around him.

But I'm here to discuss his speeches.

Calling their effect "cult-like," claiming that "America needs more than speeches," and generally disclaiming any emotional stirring resulting from such exposure is more than cynical.

It's downright unAmerican.

Have we truly devolved as a country to the point where a man who gives speeches that stir positive emotions and evoke what I consider such true American sentiments as working together, accepting challenges, and being honest... can be attacked on that basis?

Are the other two leading candidates actually doing that?

Shredding the high points of our own history that includes speeches by such Presidents as Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Kennedy? Such moral leaders as Eleanor Roosevelt and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? Such compelling appealers to our better nature as Clarence Darrow, Eugene Debs, Robert Kennedy, and Margaret Sanger? Such literally revolutionary speakers as Patrick Henry and then General George Washington?

Speeches that defined us, motivated us, and uplift us still?

Speeches that actually created our history, by changing minds and hearts?

Now, suddenly, doing such a difficult and important task is wrong?

By so doing, they are not simply running a negative campaign. They are deliberately, for short-term personal gain, attempting to undercut, tarnish, and destroy the mythological history that, for good or ill, at least bound us together and gave us something to reach for.

That, at its best, let us accomplish incredible feats and create a dream so powerful it was named after us.

The American Dream. Whether it came true often enough or not, it was there, an inspiration to an aspiration. That things can be better.

Even more powerful; that we can make it better.

More powerful yet; that we should.

Despite the rise of media campaigns, catchy ads, and relentless focus groups, we have, in these speeches, a reminder of something that is a constant in not only our American history, but in our entire history. Before film, before radio, even before writing, there was words.

The sound of a human voice reaching out.

It can stir us as nothing else can. It pulls us along, capturing our minds and caressing our hearts.

It can do things nothing else can. No ad can punch through preconceptions, no article can divert misconceptions, no medium can stir new conceptions, as purely and precisely as a good speech.

Have we been ground into the dirt so deeply that this ability is now merely another item to be spun and muddied and stripped of all meaning?

That the mere human act of being moved by another's words is fodder for devaluation and diversion, something to be mocked and mutilated?

Inspiring speeches made our country. It created, shaped, and improved our country. Something, anything, that can reach people and unite them towards some worthy goal is a precious gift.

Whereever it appears, however it is delivered, and whoever is able to do it, this is something we, as Americans, as humanitarians, and as people, should treasure.

This is something we should protect.

What I'm saying is that it is perfectly all right to debate whether or not the person making the speech can deliver on their promises, implied or otherwise. We can even discuss whether those promises should be made. We can decide for ourselves if we want to answer the call to make it happen, or not.

But making fun of hope?

Disparaging a positive emotion, a deep need, a human motivator, and, sometimes, the only thing left?

We have candidates asking for our support to make our world a better place. They all have different visions and abilities, and we can choose among them for reasons of our own.

We can choose the world we want, a vote for what we want it to be.

But I, for one, do not want a world without hope.

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